Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Whites: Richard Price Has A Big Appetite For The Grey Areas Where Good Stories Live

Dan Slater at the Daily Beast offers an interview with Richard Price, the author of The Whites.

If authenticity comes from an author’s commitment, over many books, to a genuinely-felt concern rather than the pieties of the day, then Richard Price is one of the most authentic writers of our time.

Like many novelists, he does research. But the authenticity of his fiction is about more than reportorial accuracy. It’s about nailing the sense of a place; its institutions and people; their relationships and conflicts; and of course the dialogue, for which Price is peerless.

His eighth novel, a New York cop story called The Whites, is being published under a transparent pen name: “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.” The reason for this awkwardness depends on who you ask. It’s either about Price wanting to make more money by speeding up production and dividing his career into two tracks – serious stuff and genre novels—or it’s about a contractual solution ironed out between his two publishers, or both.

Either way, fans need not worry: The Whites took four years to write, and is very much a Price novel. The head fake, however, seemed like a good time to ask Price how crime writing can transcend genre. We spoke recently in his Harlem brownstone.  

When James Wood reviewed your last novel, Lush Life, he wrote that you have greater ambitions than your genre can accommodate. Are you a genre writer?

No. I think what he’s saying, and what I feel myself, is that I slightly ghettoize myself by continuously writing about cops. But I feel like a literary writer. Not to be grandiose, but would you call Theodore Dreiser, after An American Tragedy, a crime writer? Would you call Dostoyevsky a crime writer?

When you’re looking at a huge phenomenon—such as the crack epidemic and relationships between black kids and cops; or the the amorphousness of the Lower East Side—how do you write about that? It’s a panorama. But where’s your story? A crime, and the investigation that follows, gives you a spine for your panorama, a way into the world. The nature of investigation pulls in so many disparate people: lawyers, witnesses, families, victims, killers. It’s a beautifully built-in way to show all the things you’re fascinated by, but in a pertinent way to the story.

What’s a great crime-centric novel that’s not a genre book?

George V. Higgins’s first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins was a former prosecutor in Boston. The novel was about the Boston underworld. It was a small story about small people. But it was so dead-on. The guy had an astounding ear for dialogue. And yeah, it was considered one of the great pieces of crime fiction, but I wouldn’t call it a genre book by any means.

You can read the rest of the interview via the below link:

Note: I've been assigned by the Philadelphia Inquirer to review The Whites and I'm reading the novel. I'll link to my review in a future post.

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